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Art thieves have sentences cut because they lost their loot

The pair cut a hole in the wall of the Oriental Museum - but then lost the artefacts they stole Photo: PA Wire

Art thieves who stole more than £1m of artefacts from a museum in Durham have had their sentences cut from eight years to seven years each - because they lost the items they had stolen.

Adrian Stanton and Lee Wildman hid their loot in a field, but then forgot where it was, meaning the items were recovered by the museum unharmed.

Judges at the Court of Appeal decided that the fact that the artefacts were returned to the museum without being damaged was a relevant factor in sentencing and decided the original tariff was "excessive" - although it was only down to their "crass ineptitude" that the items were not lost forever.

The pair had travelled up from Walsall to raid Durham University's Oriental Museum in April last year by cutting a hole in the brick wall. They took a porcelain figure and a jade bowl and hid them in nearby wasteland.

Two days later, Wildman was seen searching for the artefacts by a member of the public.

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and were jailed for eight years each at Durham Crown Court in July last year.

Adrian Stanton and Lee Wildman, from Walsall Credit: PA Wire

Today, their lawyers argued before Mr Justice Williams, Lady Justice Hallett and Mr Justice Jay that the sentences were too long, given that the items were recovered unharmed.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Williams said:

"We consider that the recovery of the stolen property was a relevant factor in production of sentence.

"Nevertheless, this was a carefully planned and professionally executed conspiracy.

"We have concluded that the appropriate sentence in this case, allowing the limited discount for the guilty pleas, should be one of seven years' imprisonment."

– Mr Justice Williams

Wildman had also had a one-year suspended sentence activated, meaning he will serve a total of eight years.